Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Going for Gold!

Stagecoach now seem to be well prepared for the launch of their new Gold services, linking the English Riviera with Plymouth and Dartmouth. With many thanks to Nathan Bentham I can bring you these exclusive photos of 3 of the 9 Scania N230UDs that are currently in Plaxton's holding yard in Leyland awaiting registration onto '63' plate, and then delivery. The fleet numbers are believed to be 15924 through to 15932. As we now expect from Stagecoach Gold the vehicles look very impressive indeed, and are certainly a huge step up from First's flimsy seated Ex-Bath Park and Ride Tridents. 

The timetable is certainly an interesting read though, with service timings not necessarily what I was expecting to see. I have to admit to thinking that Stagecoach would opt for a classic tactic, timing their services 5-10 minutes ahead of the competing First routes in order to cream off the passengers, using the tactic of getting people on the first bus that turns up, but no! Instead, Stagecoach have been very sensible with their service timings, slotting the service right in between the X80 and X81 between Torquay and Totnes, the busiest part of the corridor, and then 15 minutes ahead of each from Plymouth and Dartmouth respectively. This seems interesting. Although this will be the ideal situation for Concessionary Pass users, offering a more frequent service to them, I would doubt this would attract normal fare paying passengers. Certainly on trips I've done on the routes, a high proportion of the users do use Concessionary passes, but still, running 5 minutes ahead will still mean they get more of them, rather than hoping that they will be sitting around a fair amount of time before the normal offering leaves. 

Stagecoach's Gold certainly appears to offer a more usable service though, with services starting earlier, and finishing later in the locations that I would presume matter most, in what I'd presume would be the directions that would potentially see the largest demand. Indeed from Plymouth, Stagecoach run 2 1/2 hours later into the evening than First do - a huge leap. But of course, this is vice versa on the Torquay end, where Stagecoach's last service departs 2hours 45 minutes earlier than First's final service. Of course I haven't got any figures infront of me, and this is purely speculative, but I would guess there is a bigger shift in the morning towards Plymouth, and hence, a larger move outbound from Plymouth in the evening, and hence the opposite would be seen further up the route. Then again, Totnes passengers I would presume generally head West to Paignton and Torquay rather than to Plymouth and Dartmouth, so both companies likely have their own advantages. 

Another interesting thing to discover was that Stagecoach have added in an extra stop on Royal Parade, departing from the already busy A11 outside Poundland. With 12 minutes layover, this could be interesting, even if they do wait time in the now reduced amount of space available outside the Theatre Royal. Although there is of course added convenience with a stop on Royal Parade, it will be 8 minutes before passengers actually depart the City Centre, as Stagecoach will also drop down to serve Bretonside before heading off towards the A38. 

Very interesting times ahead on the route though, and I look forward to seeing how passengers will react to Stagecoach's very impressive new routes. 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Snap on Sunday

It's not often I actually seem to post about the local rail scene in and around the Plymouth area, but what better way to make a return to it than with this glorious locomotive. This is the stunning looking Class 50, 50017, better known as Royal Oak, meandering her way along the Plym Valley Railway yesterday afternoon in all her Network South East glory. 50017 spent a fair amount of time down in the South West during her working life, so it's lovely to see her working hard in the region once more. The Class 50 is a type I have a great admiration for; there's just something about that little face, and of course, the biblical sound of the 2'700 horsepower English Electric 16 CSVT. Absolute credit to all who've been involved in her restoration. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

GOD-dard: A small tribute to a great man

It is with deep regret that I report on the passing away of a man I held in the highest regard.  Jim Goddard of A-Line Coaches, and indeed, Jim's Taxis prior to this, unfortunately passed away on Wednesday, just a matter of hours after completing his final duty on Service 80 the evening before. As I'm sure many of you realise, with the regular postings on the company over the years, A-Line held a special place in my heart, and indeed, that's all down to the wonderful man behind it all. 

I've got some quite early memories of Jim, soon after starting school at Fourlanesend Primary. The school being right at the top of a steep hill meant that on wet days, the walk wasn't particularly inviting, and even on a good day, the steepness wasn't kind to 5 year old legs, so more than often, Mum and I would hop aboard 'Jim's Bus' and journey to Fourlanesend. The way he looked after us on there was quite unforgettable and indeed, completely selfless. Not only would he get out of the bus and help us cross the road, not only would he let all the kids have a toot on the horn as they got off, but every Easter and Christmas he would always buy chocolate for all the regular kids. What a fantastic impression he gave of the industry. It's the small things you remember, such as on the old 270, where there was always extra time built into the timetable at St John to allow him to park up, pop into his house for a cup of tea and to read the post, before then continuing on to Trago Mills again with many happy regulars aboard. 

Jim on many occasions would also act as a bit of a mentor for me as soon as I began taking an interest in buses. Although not an enthusiast himself, he was always very accommodating of my strange hobby. He was never one to hide things from anyone, and over the years I've learned a lot from the constant feed of information about the goings on behind the scenes of a small independent bus company. Undoubtedly many would try to keep a lot of the things I got told under wraps, but Jim always thought it was best for me to learn what went on, and indeed, it was this that began to inspire me to take up the path I am now taking in life. Transport Management wasn't actually necessarily the thing I was looking to do, and we used to talk about my prospects regularly. It was Jim who planted the seeds in this respect, moving me around from my original thoughts of going into engineering, to what I'm doing now, and without any shadow of a doubt, without his supervision, I may well have ended up making the wrong decision in the long run. Again, there aren't many bus drivers who are so enriching to your life in such a deep and personal way, and I owe a huge amount to Jim in this respect. Even the day to day things, he was always there as a shoulder to lean on, offering proper, realistic advise that really helped. 

The way he always looked out for people was another trait that was always so endearing. Again from the little things such as his constant waving to people around the Rame Peninsula from the wheel of the bus. When people wave at the vehicle, despite whoever may be driving, really, they're waving at Jim. New drivers have always commented how everyone's always waving at them, and they have no idea who they are! Goes to show how well known and loved he was among what is quite a tight-knit community. He'd look out for you in other ways though. When I first started at Devonport High, LFJ 847W failed on us at Insworke. Jim was soon there though with Iveco J234 KDL to cover the journey, and as he loaded everyone on, he told all First's passengers not to worry about paying him "I just want to make sure you get to your ferry". Not a journey he had to do, not a thing he had to oblige to, taking no fares, but again, just one of an endless stream of selfless things he did to keep the community moving. During snowy periods he was unable to move the bus out of St John, as the roads were never gritted, so rather than give up the service for the day, he'd park the bus up on the main road a good mile away up a very steep hill, and walk there at around half 5 in the morning, to make sure his service was maintained, whilst First in some cases wouldn't run to the villages at all on these days. His commitment to the community was just fantastic. Leading on from this, he used to run the local Youth Club in his very limited spare time; always an integral part of the community, even though it made his life more difficult, the people always came first. As posted above, another classic example of him stepping in at the last minute was recently at the Torpoint School's Leavers Prom, where the group's original transport failed them, so Jim stepped in and provided M698 HPF as their transport with a difference to make their evening that bit more special. 

He was always very hands on in the running of the business as well, if there was a problem with your bus, he was the one on hand, he'd instantly drop what he was doing and head down to, very often, fix it at the roadside. His knowledge of raw mechanics was boundless, but it was also the way he came up with such simple solutions to problems, that few other people would even think of, that was so brilliant. You could always tell when a bus had been 'Jimified' to coin a term I've used previously for a repair this is just so obviously, only a thing that he would do. His whole thought process was truly unique, such a clever, thinker, if that makes any sort of sense. I did once ask him, why A-Line Coaches was named A-Line Coaches, and his answer was the perfect embodiment of his type of thinking. "Well, I named it A-Line so that it would appear as the first entry in the Yellow Pages, so that I would usually be the first person they contacted". Just a totally straightforward piece of logical thinking. 

After their working lives were up, the buses would often find a good home, not always one that would be expected either. The two Ex-Southern Vectis Ivecos were donated to a local charity to transport people to beach cleaning sessions. The R reg Iveco has now been sold on to be converted into a camper van, and as you know, R178 NPN the Volvo B6 has now been passed on into preservation. I'm sure Allan will testify that Jim helped him a fair amount during this stage once he knew his plans for it, with him helping prepare for the move and so on. Again time and effort put into something that didn't directly benefit him, but meant a lot to others. 

I could go on for far longer, I have so many great memories of being with him over the years, as do many others around the Rame Peninsula. It's come as a great shock to many people, particularly because it was so unexpected, he was always so fit and well. If there was ever a man who deserved his retirement, it was Jim, and indeed he did have plans to semi-retire come early September when he intended to let his licence go and not complete the CPC training. But as was so typical of Jim, he decided that this life wasn't for him, he wouldn't know what to do with his time, and hence he did complete his CPC training ready for more years at the helm of A-Line Coaches. 

My little tribute to in all honesty, one of the greatest men I ever had the privileged to know. His advise given to me over the last 10+ years will undoubtedly stay with me forever. He has been a true inspiration to me, and I intend to honour this as I progress through life. Without his guidance, who knows where I might be now. Rest in peace Mr Goddard, one of life's true gentleman's gentleman. 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Progression in preservation

Volvo B6LE R178 NPN, or as she is more commonly referred to as now, HM 2053, has continued her progression in preservation with new owner Allan Wagner, having recently been moved to a more permanent storage site in Plymouth. The bus had previously been stored in Millbrook after being removed from A-Line Coaches' depot after the sale to Allan. 

After issues with the original recovery company that was selected to transport the bus to her new home, well respected Field Services were taken on to transport her to Plymouth, using stalwart Mercedes wrecker P778 FOD and a draw bar to complete the journey. 

Through the Facebook page, there has been a growing community of Hong Kong based enthusiasts becoming interested in the preservation of the bus, with many excited by the plans to restore her into her original Hong Kong spec. The B6 was certainly a vehicle Hong Kong took a liking to, referring to them as the "Smiley buses", thanks to the Alexander body's curved front panel. R178 NPN is a somewhat unusually capable example of the type despite some overheating issues, and appears to have been appreciated through the generations thanks to her notably loud engine and gearbox compared to what you'd expect from the sluggish B6 you will more commonly come across. It is hoped that R178 will soon be out on the preservation scene, with plans currently in place to have her running during 2014. 

To follow the continued escapades of the bus, please take a look at the Facebook page for the bus which is can be found at; https://www.facebook.com/HM2053?fref=ts

Photos come courtesy of Allan Wagner, many thanks! 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Snap on Sunday

Yesterday marked the 110th anniversary of the very first Great Western Railway motor bus service, running between Helston and The Lizard. To mark the momentous occasion, Colin Billington brought down his immaculately restored Guy FBB from Fifield. This was joined by First Kernow's Ex-Truronian Dennis Dart, TT03 TRU, which has just been painted into the GWR chocolate brown and cream livery specially for the event. Bristol VR VDV 141S was also present, wearing her version of the GWR livery as well within which she is currently preserved. The trio really did look the part traveling together through the Cornish countryside, and hence I decided to travel in the vehicle following behind, this being sister VR, VDV 137S. I was able to take advantage of her relatively rare hopper windows (seeing as it was raining fairly heavily) to take photos of the trio on their way between Helston and The Lizard, an example of which is seen above. A really slick and well organised event, and a very pleasurable day out, despite the atrocious weather Cornwall put on for us! Many thanks to all involved. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

An RM on RP

With Royal Parade a hive of activity after the annual National Firework Championships in the City, it was surprising to find South Devon Railway operated Routemaster ALD 872B out earning her keep on a private hire trip. It's been quite a few years since an active Routemaster has been seen working within Plymouth, with the last (if I'm not mistaken) being First Devon and Cornwall's use of Cummins engined examples. Quite a delight to see among the sea of deckers flooding Royal Parade at 11pm, always a delight! Somewhat strange though in the fact that PCB's Volvo B10Ms no longer make up the ranks on these evenings anymore; once a common feature on these services purely down to the fact there were no other deckers available within PCB at the time. My apologies for the quality of photography, I didn't have time to set the camera up correctly to photograph in these conditions, and I needed to board the bus behind to get me home, I certainly didn't want to be at the back of the queue with the possibility of being turned away due to capacity. Thankfully though 32761 did manage to swallow up all its passengers for Torpoint and beyond! 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Snap on Sunday

For this week's SoS I revert again to Olympians within Plymouth, with a nice little 'photoshoot' session done with K803 ORL earlier this week. The weather has again been perfect for photography, so a chance was grabbed to photograph 34003 thoroughly while on layover in Torpoint, as well as at various strategic points along the way, with many thanks to the driver for helping achieve the perfect shots! Note also the photo of the interior, which still appears very fresh and well looked after, while of course being very comfortable - far better than a leather seat could ever be in my opinion! 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Trident at Tesco

On a recent pass by at Tesco in Roborough what was there to greet me, but this very colourful Dennis Trident, although it appeared she wanted to hide her true identity! But of course, no bus can escape the enthusiasts of the UK that easily, and after a few minutes of searching, her real identity was revealed, this being Y416 HMY, new to Metrobus. 

The vehicle is on a tour of the UK promoting the children's toy 'Moshi Monsters' at the moment, although in the past she has been used by the National Young Volunteers Service as their 'V Bus'. It's somewhat surprising that such a young vehicle has been used in this capacity for this length of time already, with her having been converted as early as 2009 at the tender age of just 8 years old. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

So long S412!

A very recent departure from the South West bus preservation scene is that of Ex-Torpoint Mercedes Vario S412 GUB, one of quite a number of First Calderline Varios to join the ranks of First Devon and Cornwall in the mid 2000s. 50306 was my 'favorite' of the trio of Varios permanently based at Torpoint, and in fairness, she wasn't a bad little runner during her relatively brief stint before being replaced by Ex-Truronian Darts at the depot. 

When her time was up with First, she moved onto ownership with the Western National Preservation Group, with whom she has been with for the last few years, up until last weekend, as she attended what was to be her final rally up on the Hoe with the WNPG. Financial problems appear to persist with the group forcing the sale of a number of vehicles, with S412 being the latest to leave what was once quite a large rank of interesting buses. I can't yet confirm who has purchased S412 GUB, although I'm sure someone will know, but she has already been out and about being shown off in her vivid pink and purple Tamar Link swoops at the Gosport Rally the weekend just gone. 

Thankfully S529 RWP, the 'other' Torpoint Vario in preservation lives on in the South West with the ever expanding Cornwall Bus Preservation Society, so pink Varios won't disappear from the South West bus scene totally. Despite this though, it is a bit of a shame to see the duo split up after what has ended up being quite a pampered life for them down in Devon and Cornwall; no doubt they will eventually meet again though! She will of course also say farewell to long term stablemate LFJ 844W, with whom she has worked alongside at Torpoint, and been in preservation with during her time down here. Nevertheless, a healthy number of Ex-Torpoint vehicles continue to survive in the South West, as well as further afield, so all is not lost!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Beaches and a Bristol

It was a surprise and a pleasure to rediscover a long lost friend on a recent trip to Croyde Bay this week, in the form of Bristol VRT AFJ 760T. I have had the thrill of being behind the wheel of 38760, or, if you prefer 1153 in old money several times whilst she was in preservation with Jon Harris at Winkleigh. I had also been involved in the restoration of her, although after a change in circumstances 1153 was stuck in a corner and slowly but surely forgotten about, with mold encroaching over her latter day First Western National livery, eventually ending up looking quite sorry for herself. 

She was later offered back to her original savior from the scrapman, Steve Cocks, but because her condition had deteriorated to such an extent, the offer was rejected, and hence she ended up with David Hoare at Chepstow Classic Buses in May of last year. 

Thankfully, this has actually ended up being her saving grace, with restoration having taken place to bring her back up to scratch for her new role as a surfing school in Croyde Bay, painted in a very attractive light blue advertising livery. The lower saloon appears to have been converted for storage, whereas the upper saloon has had the original seat frames re-positioned to face inwards right the way round, presumably now used as a teaching space. 

It is a shame in one sense to know that she came so near to being loved and cherished by enthusiasts throughout the South West, with plans to repaint her into the green and cream Western National/Plymouth Citybus livery of the mid/late 80s; an accolade relatively few buses could justifiably be painted into. But on the other hand, she is still one of the lucky ones who dodged the cutters torch to continue living on in the South West, and is certainly now being put to good use; although I'd presume it will be quite a while before she turns a wheel again. Who knows, maybe in 10 years time she could be saved for preservation once again, and the life she always deserved may still be in reach. Only time will tell!  

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Snap on Sunday

Firstly a brief apology for the gap in blogging due to a mixture of internet issues thanks to the influx of holidaymarkers to my corner of Cornwall, using up all the (relatively small) capacity available; and the fact I've been on a family holiday in which usually I'd pre-prepare some posts for, but unfortunately was unable to do so, thanks to the emmits! Good for nothing, hey?

On with the post and I've been tied between two VRs; oh the joys! So first off is this one of VDV 141S, managing to escape the usual 'Hoe Circualar' service, with a far more ambicious driver at the wheel, who decided to give us a brief tour of the South West of the city, taking in Devonport, Stoke, the Torpoint Ferry, Barne Barton and even Saltash Passage - fantastic! Every year my thoughts echo that it's such a shame the variety of routes across the City and beyond that used to be offered over the weekend are no longer provided, so it was great to have someone willing to go that bit further, and on what a vehicle! VDV 141S is such a treat to ride on with her lovely loud, bellowing Gardner, and the man at the helm drove her sublimely. She is pictured here stopping for a brief photo opportunity on Saltash Road

One of my old favorites, LFJ 844W, unfortunately stayed static for the whole duration of Sunday, but I was pleased with this very atmospheric shot, quite archetypal of the weekend. The blemish to this photo is unfortunately the pedestrians, but this can't always be helped, particularly at rallies.  

More VR action to come tomorrow!